Gaslighting – A substantial book on control and psychotherapy

gaslightingI almost never come across a book this good. It’s rated five stars in four reviews on Amazon, I think it’s pretty scarce but I was able to borrow if from Denver University Library. I was surprised when I got the copy because it was written in 1996 and appears to have never been read.

The title should have sold this thing, you’d think. “Gaslighting, the Double Whammy, Interrogation and Other Methods of Covert Control in Psychotherapy and Analysis”, by Theo. L. Dorpat. I will leave others to explain why that didn’t happen and just tell you this is an extraordinary book.

It deals specifically with the interplay between patient and practitioner during psychoanalysis but everything in it is widely applicable to all relationships and sports a gem or two or more on virtually every page.

This is not mass market material but psych-minded people will devour this book and here’s a sample. It is not especially indicative of the style of writing or content of the book, in fact this bit is opposite that but I was struck by it and wanted to share it.

Theo. L. Dorpat writes:

On Normopaths and Functioning as a Mirror for Others

People who did not know Mrs. G well erroneously thought of her as being exceptionally “normal”. This erroneous judgment was based partly on her surface agreeability and appearance of being “normal”. Her sense of security was founded on her ability to understand and meet the expectations of others and this is what she initially believed meant being normal. She was a “normopath” – one of many in our culture who want to appear normal and who confuse the appearance of normality with the substance of normality. Though she was extraordinarily sensitive and vigilant to the desires of others, she was most often vague or unaware of her own desires and needs. She gave to others what she unconsciously wanted for herself, and frequently in her interactions with others, she provided selfobject mirroring functions for them.

In her interpersonal relations she behaved like a mirror reflecting back to others what they wanted and at the same time (again, like a mirror) concealing from the view of others whatever was going on inside of her and behind, as it were, the exterior surface of the mirror.”

Now I wonder what people think when they read that.  Do you know someone like this? Are you someone like this?

I’ll tell you what I thought when I read it. I thought, jeez! I’m glad I’m repulsive!

Discuss!

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Gaslighting – A substantial book on control and psychotherapy — 62 Comments

  1. God, my mother was like that in some ways. she was a Libra Sun, Pisces Moon.

    Not me though, I was born determined to be my contrary self. 🙂

  2. luci – I think it is a deeper pathology but that’s just my opinion.

    It seems a very queer way to live from my vantage point but very common. I read that and think that I got hit with a lot of bullets but not that one, thank God!!

  3. I’ll agree that I’m NOT unaware of my own desires and needs. I just have a developed co-dependence that makes it difficult for me to handle the people closest to being upset. Which means if the struggle is with ME, I’m most likely to give up my desires and let them have theirs. I’m good at keeping my mouth shut.

    So, definitely think it can be considered such – you’re putting everyone else’s happiness before yours – because without THAT, you’re lost.

  4. My South Node/Libra Sun conj gave me a diluted sense of ego/self when I was younger. So I can see where Mrs G is coming from.

  5. “In her interpersonal relations she behaved like a mirror reflecting back to others what they wanted and at the same time (again, like a mirror) concealing from the view of others whatever was going on inside of her and behind, as it were, the exterior surface of the mirror.”

    That is precisely how I am, actually…one of my ex’s biggest complaints is that he never knew what was going on inside my head…I hated to tell him that I often didn’t know either 😛

  6. Could Neptune on the asc. give others the impression that you are a normopath? I’m having some trouble grasping this concept. It’s like the symptoms are familiar to me (very sensitive towards the plights of others but vague on determining own needs; unknowingly giving what I would like to have for myself) , but not the causes: I don’t feel that my security is tied into the way I relate to others, but I do care about the way I am perceived to an extent – which never was too much, but now it’s even less.
    Also, would you please clarify what a selfobject mirroring function is? 😛

  7. We just have to hope satori shows up because she can explain this to you guys with no problem at all. Really, this is her area of expertise and I look on and listen in fascination.

    I posted this for you guys (the book HAS to be acknowledged) but also so she could read that bit. I read it to her on the phone but you know. Black and white!

    That is why this is a bit that is out of context of the bulk of the book which is about GASLIGHTING. I just wanted her to see it and it is interesting and well written as is every paragraph in this book.

    • There is supposed haunted house in Iowa City with this name, The Gaslight. A strange man developed it. A rooming house for UI writing students. I new a couple that lived and moved pretty quickly. Interesting term.

  8. Yeah this is not just about co-dependence. This is someone who really doesn’t have any concept of normal so studies people in order to emulate them and get the desired positive reactions.

    I dated someone like that for a few years. Elsa actually helped me get free of him. He trusted me and so revealed more to me than anyone about how he studied social norms in order to function in the world.

    For those of you who watch tv, Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory is a little like this. So is Spock from Star Trek. They are very detached from their own emotional self and have difficulty relating to others on an emotional level.

  9. Interesting.

    I’m totally seeing The Hours(movie)/Mrs. Dalloway here.

    I can’t give the whole context for those who haven’t seen it. But, she’s the type of character that gives parties, loves entertaining, loves to do things for others. And she’s talking about a dying friend–a writer. In the kitchen, Meryl Streep’s character is crying.

    Clarissa Vaughn: He gives me that look.
    Julia: What look?
    Clarissa Vaughn: To say your life is trivial. You are so trivial.

    I feel for the character, even though I am not her.

    Well, it almost seems like it reflects more on the therapist than what is going on with the patient. For me, the patient seems like 50% of the world out there. I’ve seen her in everyday life and I know her.

    The psychotherapist may even be the one that isn’t quite right and talks about everyone out there like they’ve got neuroses. Because (s)he’s got power here, (s)he would able to write her into any sort of psychopath (s)he’d like.

    Has anyone ever listened to This American Life?

    Especially the one with Scott Carrier. Makes you think and consider other possibilities.

    What’s normal anyway?

    Honestly, everyone’s weird.

    Thanks everyone for your opinions! This is awesome stuff to think about.

  10. OH! Sorry about the Scott Carrier show. It’s not in that link I gave… it’s this one (Act One):

  11. The author of this book supervises analysts and he’s very clean about it. You rarely find a book this keen / meaty. The offerings seem to just get worse and worse, it’s so disheartening.

  12. i dunno. i try not to shock people unless there’s a point i think needs to be made. i like to move under the surface. but i really have no interest in being normal. don’t want to become a target unless it’s a situation where my self respect would be affected. funny how often the situation can become just that, though.

    but i know a number of people who do play to an appearance of what they think other people think they are supposed to be. extraordinarily common.

  13. I think there may have been some enormous canyon that I missed in the fog here.

    Who’s the person that is observing? Is it Dorpat? Or an analyst that Dorpat is excepting from?

    (I thought it was the latter.)

  14. I think some people function this way to a degree (myself included), not as far as being classified as a sort of mental illness, but as a way of coping in social situations. Instead of showing your true colors, you reflect back the other person’s colors and adjust your responses to theirs.

    It also sounds a lot like helping others live out their lives without dealing with one’s own.

    Sounds like something I would love to read (psych major here).

    • Very much agree with Alicia’s comment here. Also former Psych major here. I think there is a big difference between mirroring another’s actions or forming responses to others that you think they would like to hear in certain social situations in order to feel more socially comfortable for yourself, contrasted with someone not knowing what or how they feel and merely just copying or acting out what they think the other would want. It is the underlying intent…are you doing it merely to please another to get yourself feeling better…or do you have no idea how to respond to a situation so you just immitate.

      This also brings to mind someone who just doesn’t open up well their own feelings to others…so its easier to just give some rote answer you know will keep others at a comfortable distance. (my Virgo moon insisted I add that one! lol)

  15. I can relate to this, going around in what I call a “normal suit”, that is, exhibiting a semblance of normalcy to stave off hostility or awkwardness. Sometimes at parties I just have no idea what to say to people, so I start talking about, God, I don’t know, Megan Fox, but really I don’t care.

    As to what I want … that is never far from my mind — after all I do have a Leo sun 🙂

  16. I don’t know if I am that way, but I can relate to feeling that way. I always wonder how everyone else can be so (okay I’ll use the word) normal. I always feel like I’m acting just so I can keep going without others interfering.
    The only person I can usually be myself around is my husband.

  17. I have definitely behaved like this in my life, but I feel that I have a real concept of normal and I think (most of) my associations reflect it. Way too Neptunian and plenty of Libra – *raises hand*

  18. Well I do this so people can stay out of my personal business. I’m a very private person. I don’t think I do this with everyone. Some get it confused. I think that I’m a passive aggressor who treats others how they treat me. Sometimes their so into what might be wrong with me and how I’m letting them mistreat me that they might miss a diss here or there. But again that’s only for some people. I can look at someone and see that their interests are to make me uncomfortable,or to act is if I’m not there. Then there’s the other half that have an understanding of what I’m possibly going through and there can’t be any faking.Matter of fact no faking with anyone who knows of me. You know what I’m going through. I just can’t mope and wine all of the time so at times I have to pretend to be happy because I’m in a situation that I can receive help and I have to receive it definitely before it’s too late, but as close to possible as me being ready. Also keeping in mind that some people just don’t care, but with me compassion flies and pity doesn’t. I could say the same for people who love to treat you like shit, while others can see that you are human. All in all I may have to laugh last, but I damn sure will take care of what I can everyday. As weird as I might seem to others I like looking nice, and feeling nice. That isn’t going to stop for anyone. Elsa you can vouch that sentence (my chart). I really don’t think to highly of people these days anyhow so never will I give and not be getting something in return. But I will always be mistaken for doing so maybe due to my uranus, I’m all over the place! It’s my passive aggressiveness, that I’m trying to now correct. I clearly before didn’t make that apparent and am trying to do so now, by being my bubbly self and not dwelling on my issues as of recent history, trying to show others it doesn’t matter because I’m still here. But I bet they’ll never get that and It doesn’t matter. SSL

  19. Lupa – I just want to say, I remember that guy and he was an ASS. I am so glad you escaped that and now look!!

    You give people hope.

  20. Hi, I realize this is an old article but wanted to pipe in in agreement with others, that although some may identify with the style described above, that there’s something deeper going on.

    That it’s not that the person doesn’t know what normal is, s/he just isn’t normal. Being hyper-sensitive to environment and others, anticipating their needs demonstrates a lack of self, typified by personality disorders in general. Exemplified in this case by dependent personality disorder (not necessarily synonymous with co-dependency in relationships–not all co-dependents are PDd), seen in histrionic personality disorder and borderline personality disorder.

    They have a Concept of how their gender is supposed to behave, societal expectations and fits into the perceived mold. Attaching themselves to opinions, lacking depth (despite demonstrations that seems to be the contrary sometimes), often characters or caricatures rather than being a person of character. So often they can be overly emotional on the surface (dramatic), superficially nurturing, charming, giving to get in return.

    The crux is not having a sense of self as a pathology, no internal anchor or compass, living from the outside-in, rather than the inside-out. Not matter the exhibited traits, ranging from meek and docile to very strong, overwhelming and overbearing, all personality disorders have this issue including narcissism. Whether it’s scanning the environment for a threat to their flimsy image, looking for cues for acceptance or opportunity for manipulation. Gaslighting, fear, obligation and guilt are just some of the tools employed. This is an oversimplification but just felt the need to give my 2 cents.

  21. How Jungian. I did an assignment at uni along similar lines. I feel like I am like “a mirror” as it says. I am not unaware of what it is I want, I think, rather, the act of reflecting the desires of others is a mechanism for trying to get the things that I want – provided it is something that involves another person. Some people like to be challenged, others like placidity, some people like immediate honesty, others want you to play the game.

    On the subject of gaslighting though, I was watching “Amelie” the other day where she goes into the mean man’s house and switches things up….. I was thinking, I wish I could turn that into an occupation.

  22. My mother gaslighted me for the first 2 decades of my life! I don’t know how I didn’t strangle her. She wasted a lot of my energy and time. These ’emotional vampires’ are very selfish people who are insecure and take your energy for their own use.

    Now I’ve moved out and I think God helped keep me sane (I prayed every night for her to stop gaslighting me). These people are bewildering to deal with!

    Thank God there is a grey area where I can still talk to my mother, but if I had to pick between a black and white choice of either never seeing her again for the rest of my life or living with her until I die I’d pick leaving her. My mother was at times unbearable to live with and I’m glad I don’t have to have to see her face as much anymore!

  23. This book has been on my wishlist for a year or two, and I have never gotten around the buying it… maybe this year, yea?

    As for the excerpt, I always felt odd as a kid, so I felt that I had to be normal as a cover. Very empty feeling. However, with Uranus rising, being ‘normal’ is not normal, so that didn’t work too well. Couldn’t be ‘normal’ even if I tried. Plus it was more fun being artsy.

  24. Well, I’m currently one big full length mirror. I have a 1st house Pisces moon that is square Neptune and you would think I would be used to it but I’m not.

    As for the lady in question..sad state when you don’t even know you have a problem. Does that sound like someone I know..yes, at one time until some Italian chic “smacked” (ok..she didn’t literally get smacked) her upside the head and made her realize it 🙂

    I don’t know what to tell other’s who are mirrors other than know thyself. That’s all I can tell anyone..know who you are and stand in it firm.

  25. RE:first few posts… I am a Libra sun/Pisces moon like Neith’s mother. My moon is in the 1st house and is inconjunct..still don’t understand this aspect well..my Neptune in Libra. I have a son with Aspergers and yes they are anything but normal in the socialized dept… as was his father, who also was a brilliant chemical engineer. I’m in my sixties now and no longer quietly putting everyone else’s needs and wants in front of my own. But it makes life very uncomfortable for me. It’s not my natural inclination and in many ways I feel like a newborn babe trying to learn about life on earth. I am so grateful for cut to the chase people like Elsa, as I hate playing games… just tell me the truth!.. and let me take it from there. I need to understand gaslighting better, in case I do that. Would love to hear Satori’s take on this also. Can you get this book via Amazon?

  26. I think I could be to a certain extent, and I wasn’t sure of what I was doing. My desires definitely kick in, but I had stifled some – like certain relationship desires – until I could meet someone, because I’ve had no interest in casual relationships. Some really attractive to me appears, and my desires can only be stifled for so long. I have a mixture of co-dependence and independence fighting between themselves at times – I took a flower essence to help feelings of independence, to help me get over agoraphobia. (Fairy Lantern – to help ease dependence.)

    This whole gaslighting thing makes me nervous, because I’ve had someone shove everything onto me, and I’m also wary of self-delusion (both positively and negatively).

  27. I still can’t type. It scares me how long I was agoraphobic, because I didn’t feel ‘normal’ or felt like such an alien – my brain was essentially re-wired as I grew up, but there was also some part of me that knew that wasn’t true. I wish it hadn’t taken so long to take hold.

    I had that experience last week, when I was walking around a store, having just been to lunch with mum and a friend, and having it hit me again, that I’d never been abnormal or unacceptable. I wasn’t ugly, or that weird, or unlikable/unlovable – all of that and more.

  28. Oh lord, I responded to this 2 years ago about how this sounded like my now ex-husband. Then I thought he was only a normopath to his family; now I know he was gas lighting me too! And he’s a natal Pisces mars sq Neptune!

  29. Sounds like the ex- from when I had t-Neptune opposite natal Venus. Felt like the most wonderful relationship in the world because she was doing this. Even knowing that I was under a potentially disaster transit and looking for the catch, I still couldn’t see that she was doing this.

    She had neptune on the ascendant. And Libra moon opposite Aries Saturn which sat on her south and north nodes respectively. And the saturn was conjunct her aries sun and mercury.

    Quite simply a woman who didn’t know how to express who she was, what she was thinking or feeling. Needed to be defined by other people.

  30. Sounds like a PTSD reaction to me from someone who has rarely if ever felt safe. When you’ve been in a situation where being who you were was reviled or dangerous or both, especially as a child, adopting a false self to shield from an abuser’s false self would an instinctive defensive reaction.

  31. I can definitely identify with this and I believe it comes mostly from growing up with an emotionally abusive father (my saturn is in aquarius in the first squaring Pluto in Scorpio in the 10th + chiron in Virgo in the 7h). Having your sense of self constantly smashed as a child and never feeling safe makes being a normopath a survival strategy. I work everyday to get I touch with my needs and desires and to overcome feelings of alienation. (I’m not looking for sympathy, just disclosing info to better explain how it works for me)

  32. I dated someone like this and I had no idea until the veil dropped. It left me wondering if everything that I was in love with was actually just aspects of myself that he was reflecting back to me. Both heart breaking and empowering.

  33. Oooops, I might be a normopath. Although I try not to be. I mean, I voice my wishes, concerns and problems, it’s just that they are usually ignored. It’s like I’m too nice so no one thinks twice about ignoring me. They just all get very surprised when I go off on my own and leave it all in the past.
    Hmm, now I think about it, I guess I’m not a normopath. 🙂

  34. This sounds like the man I’m currently splitting up with. Could it be Asperger’s syndrome. It’s referred to as mind blindness. I always call him “Spock”. Which he takes as a compliment. Super high functioning and secretive. He’s a computer engineer. Emotions and empathy non existent. Studies and watches movies to learn how to become whatever and whoever he is currently trying to gain use of. Has 100s of jackets, hats and shoes. Owns artwork and beautiful material items to change to suit the outward appearance he is portraying. Also tells everyone what they want to hear. Walks away from people and relationships without any remorse or sense of loss. Even his fathers death did not phase him. He will act like what’s normal to do or be but nothing behind his eyes. Once I saw a slight color change to his lids when I spoke of my deep sorrow but, I may be mistaken. He is definitely a mirror. What’s behind the smoke and mirror? His Sun in Virgo conjunct Uranus and wide orb to pluto.Opposite jupiter rx and chiron rx in Pisces 2nd and 8th houses. Moon and mars in cancer in 12 th. Leo rising. Neptune is final depositor. He can only sustain any normal relationship for short time. I’ve known him all my life -so normal- and became involved with him 5 years ago when we became reintroduced over a discussion about Art. Wow talk about a head trip. I’m ready to find a real normal guy. ???

  35. Wow, I’m going to read this book. Best part is understanding when you’re being gaslighted by your therapist!

    Reminds me of this story. Husband of a speech pathologist found out he had this form of autism later in his life. He describes how he rehearsed speaking like David Letterman and Howard Stern. He “played the part” to be able to interact with people, but also had several things he couldn’t hide. Mostly, as a way to survive this very social world.
    http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/458/play-the-part?act=2

    Also see…. Story of Luke. 🙂

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